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Distance Learning Considerations

This page provides considerations for designing and implementing distance learning opportunities for all students. It includes specific state and local educational agency (LEA) approaches that can guide decision-making.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Main Web Page
Distance Learning Main Web Page

This information was formerly titled Distance Learning published on March 17, 2020.

On March 13, 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom issued Executive Order N-26-20 regarding the physical closure of schools by local educational agencies (LEAs) in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The order provides that even if schools close temporarily because of COVID-19, LEAs will continue to receive state funding for those days so that they can:

  • Continue delivering high-quality educational opportunities to students to the extent feasible through, among other options, distance learning and/or independent study;
  • Provide school meals in non-congregate settings through the Summer Food Service Program and Seamless Summer Option, consistent with the requirements of the California Department of Education and U.S. Department of Agriculture;
  • Arrange for, to the extent practicable, supervision for students during ordinary school hours; and
  • Continue to pay employees.

This guidance provides a framework for how LEAs can continue to deliver high-quality educational opportunities to students when the school site is physically closed and the LEA has suspended onsite instruction. In providing this instruction, it is critical that LEAs take steps to ensure that these opportunities are available to all students to the greatest extent possible, including economically disadvantaged students, students with disabilities, and English learners.

Distance Learning

This document provides guidance concerning how districts can provide distance learning opportunities for students. In addition to the guidance, a set of Appendices provides curated distance learning resources and information about contributions from many organizations that you can use to expand access for students to WiFi, devices, and learning opportunities that are not device-dependent. CDE is also connecting with other vendors, including publishers, who are providing free access to their materials, products, and programs over the coming months.

We anticipate that the list of resources will be regularly updated. That information will be available on the CDE Coronavirus (COVID-19) web page and updated on an ongoing basis. CDE will also update this guidance as necessary to reflect additional information as it becomes available. In addition, educators can learn more about how to teach on-line through any of a number of courses, including those listed on Get Educated External link opens in new window or tab. and here Google for Education External link opens in new window or tab. .

Considerations for Developing a Distance Learning Plan

For the purpose of this guidance, “distance learning” means instruction in which the student and instructor are in different locations. This may include interacting through the use of computer and communications technology, as well as delivering instruction and check-in time with their teacher. Distance learning may include video or audio instruction in which the primary mode of communication between the student and instructor is on-line interaction, instructional television, video, telecourses, or other instruction that relies on computer or communications technology. It may also include the use of print materials incorporating assignments that are the subject of written or oral feedback.

School districts, county offices of education, and charter schools (local educational agencies/LEAs) should immediately begin developing a plan for distance learning for their students and providing training and professional development for their teachers to implement the adopted distance learning strategy as effectively as possible. LEAs will need to assess their ability to deliver instruction both in an online setting and also in a non-technological setting, keeping in mind that not all children and families have access to devices or high-speed internet, and that the LEA may not be able to meet the needs of all its students through online instruction.

Elements of the plan might include, but not be limited to, the following:

  • Short- and long-term goals, accounting for the length of time currently planned for the school site to be closed and for the possibility that the closure may need to be extended based on the best evidence available in the future
  • Plan to assist teachers in analyzing the course sequence prior to closure so that they can develop a plan to cover the content and standards necessary to complete the planned course syllabus and to provide training on how to continue to deliver instruction
  • Continuum of delivery options for various grade levels, such as a fully online curriculum or online curriculum with individualized or small group interaction with teachers.
  • Continuum of delivery methods, such as a combination of technology, innovative use of other media (such as television), paper packets, or onsite meetings for a limited number of students, consistent with social distancing requirements
  • Plan for how to allow teachers to engage with one another to calibrate on offerings for students, exchange of effective practices, or adjusting approaches to ensure engagement with students.

This document is organized to provide specific guidance for different scenarios a school or district may need to consider in order to create a plan for distance learning during this time of school closures. In addition, Appendix 1 offers a wide range of resources, and Appendix 2 offers concrete guidance for remote learning assembled by a number of California districts and county offices, led by the Riverside County Office of Education. It treats issues of pedagogy and accessibility, offering wide-ranging content, tools, and resources, as well as advice about infrastructure and devices. Appendix 3 offers guidance for developing an on-line course.

Considerations to Ensure Equity and Access for All Students

Although many families have the devices and appropriate connectivity in place, the most at-risk children whom LEAs serve may not. Fortunately, because state assessments require students to be familiar with working digitally, many LEAs have already developed a framework for incorporating digital materials into every day instructional practice. LEAs should build on that work, including any pre-existing assessment of access to devices and internet connectivity for their students and in the community, as they plan to implement distance learning strategies during the physical closures of schools in response to COVID-19.

In these difficult times, we cannot lose track of the needs of our most disadvantaged students. LEAs will need to solve a variety of concerns about access, which this guidance seeks to support. Importantly, the California Constitution prohibits LEAs from requiring students to purchase devices or internet access, to provide their own devices, or otherwise pay a fee as a condition of accessing required course materials under the free schools guarantee. Additionally, California law requires that all students have access to standards-aligned textbooks or instructional materials in the core subjects, for use in class and to take home. This standard is grounded in the principle of equal educational opportunity under the California Constitution.

Depending on the extent to which students have access to devices and internet at home, LEAs should assess whether an e-learning/distance learning strategy would provide the most meaningful educational opportunity for students and, if so, steps they can take to ensure equitable access. It's important to note that equitable access does not require that LEAs offer the exact same content through the same channel for all students. Instead of abandoning a promising e-learning approach because not all students will have equal access to it from home, the plan should include an analysis of alternate deliveries of comparable educational content. These alternate deliveries might include providing students access to a device or internet at school or a community site, consistent with social distancing guidelines.

Additionally, in developing plans for distance learning, LEAs may wish to consider what is realistic in the short-term (i.e., the first week or two of a school closure) and what may be possible should a longer-term closure become necessary. It is to be expected that LEAs’ ability to deliver robust and meaningful educational opportunities will increase as they have more time to assess e-learning options, the degree of access to devices and internet among their students, and plan with their staff to develop content and operationalize effective instructional delivery channels.

Accordingly, in developing distance learning strategies to continue delivering educational services during a school site closure, LEAs should assess how all students will be able to access e-learning, looking at all of the following factors:

  • Whether a student has access to the internet,
  • Whether a student has access to a device and what alternatives exist for them to access a device,
  • How familiar a student is with the device and necessary support to ensure they are familiar with navigating its features, and
  • Additional support for teachers.

We are actively working with service providers and others in the private sector to develop partnerships to support students and LEAs during this crisis through offering free high speed internet access, devices, and other opportunities.

Key Considerations and Continuum of Options

As noted above, it is likely that the school’s distance learning plan will contain a combination of all of the options and considerations below. Schools and districts should ensure that their plan addresses the needs of those students who have a device and access to the internet and those students who do not.

Decisions about the necessary programmatic adjustments to transition to distance learning should involve necessary consultation with local public health officials and labor partners, if applicable, about how we collectively work together to meet the needs of our community in the face of this unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic.

In considering the development and implementation of a distance learning plan for schools, school administrators need to consider:

  1. What are the existing resources (including hardware, licensing agreements with vendors, WiFi availability, etc.) that be can leveraged to more seamlessly transition to a distance learning environment?
  2. What processes need to be developed to ensure that equitable access and opportunity is offered to students?

When considering those two key questions, school officials will then need to assess the continuum of available strategies. Most schools will need to offer multiple options and a combination of strategies to students, depending on accessibility to devices and the internet. These strategies will likely change, both in the short- and long-term. The plan should focus on how to deliver educational content to students across all platforms and delivery methods.
LEAs should also consider the means by which students access content. In many situations, students are using mobile devices, such as smartphones and application-based versions of a given platform software in place of web-based portals. While it is safe to assume mobile devices can access the internet through WiFi capabilities, many students rely on 4 and 5G data plans to go online.

Figure 1 below illustrates a continuum of delivery strategies, followed by key considerations for LEAs as they assess how to incorporate strategies on this continuum into a distance learning plan, based on their student population and community needs:

Figure 1: Continuum of Options

Figure 1: Continuum of Options diagram as described in the following long description.

Long description of Figure 1: This is a continuum of options which contains five boxes representing delivery strategies. They are as follows: Teacher interaction and assistance through online learning platform to online curriculum for students to work from home to online curriculum in computer lab or classroom, consistent with social distancing guidelines to paper packets of instructional materials for students to work on at home to in person setting consistent with social distancing guidelines.

Students with 1:1 Access to Devices and to the Internet at Home

For students who have access to devices or schools that offer a 1:1 device program and the LEAs has a platform to provide an online learning environment, please consider the following strategies to support students and teachers in transitioning to digital learning:

  • Maintaining school district technology support to those programs and resource adjustments if not all schools have access to these programs;
  • Student/family access to technology assistance if troubleshooting is necessary;
  • Necessary modification and adjustment of the curriculum to ensure a quality instructional program design that includes a course structure, content presentation, virtual collaboration and interaction opportunities that are planned across the length of the school closure; and
  • Ensure that guidance is provided for how to effectively differentiate instruction and support for students in the class who need additional support, including, but not limited to, students with disabilities and English Learner students.

Example:

Westlake Charter School (WCS) External link opens in new window or tab.

has crafted a digital space to offer daily academic and social-emotional lessons to its students. Families were surveyed about their technology needs so that the school was able to provide assistance to families that needed to access internet and a device. First, using Google Sites, the team built a simple website to house all teacher resources; the team crafted a distance learning manual which was posted to the site; feedback forms were crafted and FAQ pages were launched; and access was created to the delivery sites where teachers would eventually deliver content. Next the adminstrative team built a Distance Learning site for families to visit. Each grade level and subject area has its own page and each page is organized into days of the week.

The school has organized staff into collaborative groups that are meeting via video chat to curate daily lessons by grade level. Students will engage in at least one structured academic lesson and one social-emotional community building lesson each day, delivered digitally by their own classroom teacher. Further online learning resources are offered to extend learning beyond these structured lessons using a variety of online curriculum. Staff are building lessons that reflect Universal Designs for Learning (UDL), offering options such as UDL playlists to engage students in these distance learning opportunities. All lessons are being delivered through Google Classroom, incorporating videos of the teachers speaking and reading directly to students, as well as curating a wide variety of learning resources. The Google Classrooms are organized on Google Sites, shared with families, which structure daily learning for each grade level.

If students at your school(s) have 1:1 access to devices and you do not have a platform to provide an online learning environment, then please consider the following:

  • Utilizing a free online learning platform or free learning management systems that includes professional learning and/or easy guidance for teachers, some examples are Google classroom, Seesaw, etc. See the resources at the end of this page for more examples;
  • Constructing engagement with students that leverage basic features of the platform such as filling out shared documents, etc. to enable faster adaptivity to the new environment; and
  • Developing a lesson and course sequence that involves combinations of both independent and online learning engagements.

Example:

Miami-Dade Public Schools External link opens in new window or tab.

has a detailed plan, which includes information regarding content delivery, mobile devices, and internet access. The plan describes materials available by grade level, including core and supplementary materials, as well as materials for students with exceptional needs. The district also has a support hotline External link opens in new window or tab. for teachers, students, and parents seeking assistance with distance learning.

Please see the “Resources” section to this document for a list of online coursework providers.

Students with Limited Access to Devices or the Internet

  • Consider leveraging mobile devices as an option for engagement, e.g., loading Webex or Zoom to engage via mobile devices;
  • Lend students district-owned devices, possibly on a rotating basis if there are not a sufficient number of devices, to provide devices, to each student for the duration of the closure;
  • Consider options for preloading and distributing USB drives or devices with relevant content and materials for students who may not have access to internet at home;
  • Open up the computer lab or classroom with computers, consistent with social distancing guidelines;
  • Develop an instructional sequence of activities that aligns to grade level standards and student needs;
  • Partner with the local cable company to provide instruction modules through the local television channel;
  • Partner with a funder to increase the access of internet to students;
  • Provide a paper instructional packet, similar to an independent study packet, picked up at school or delivered by staff; and
  • Provide teacher interaction through phone calls or small group sessions at the schoolsite, consistent with social distancing guidelines.

Example:

The Los Angeles Unified School District announced a partnership with its local PBS station to provide standards-based instructional content to students in math, history, and other subject areas. The programming will be accompanied by lesson plans and take-home assignments for students to complete. Los Angeles Unified teachers will have training utilizing PBS LearningMedia, a national resource that offers additional content to support educational assignments. PBS SoCal and KCET will provide educational resources via television broadcast, both on-air and online. The initiative entails three local public media channels broadcast content specifically targeted to kids Pre-K through the 12th grade. The partnership can support other partnerships between public media organizations and school districts, as PBS SoCal and KCET work together to deliver a satellite feed that other public media stations can use.

The same programming will also air in the San Francisco Bay Area through PBS member station KQED in San Francisco, which is leading the development of digital resources that align to state standards. This robust digital toolkit for educators and students includes: standards-aligned PBS video content, associated lesson plans and support materials, as well as online training sessions hosted by KQED for teachers. The PBS Learning Media materials External link opens in new window or tab. will be offered in conjunction with the on-air content and will be available online. Content also streams on PBS SOCALExternal link opens in new window or tab. and KCETExternal link opens in new window or tab. and on the free KCET app (available on Roku and Apple TV), the PBS Video app (available on Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Samsung Smart TV, the App Store and Google Play), as well as on YouTube. Districts might also consider partnering with their local cable access channel.

Considerations for Students with Disabilities

Students with disabilities are particularly vulnerable, and continuing support from the state’s educators is critical during these uncertain times. LEAs that physically close schools should focus their planning efforts on how to continue serving these students, by tailoring distance learning to provide educational benefits to students with disabilities, to the greatest extent practicable under the circumstances.

At this time, the federal government has not waived the federal requirements under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Accordingly, IDEA’s requirements, including federally mandated timelines, continue to apply. The United States Department of Education (US ED) Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) issued guidance External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF) explaining how these obligations operate in the context of school closures in response to COVID-19.

The OSEP guidance recognizes that, given the unprecedented situation created by the threat of COVID-19, exceptional circumstances may affect how a particular service is provided under a student’s individualized education program (IEP). While distance learning can provide educational benefit to many students with disabilities, it is important to consider the unique learning needs, accommodations and supports noted in each student’s IEP.

CDE will convene a workgroup of practitioners and experts in special education to assess various models for effectively serving students with disabilities in a distance learning environment, including promising practices and specific strategies that LEAs are implementing in California and around the country. Additional guidance will be forthcoming shortly.

In the meantime, below are some considerations and suggestions for continuing to support students with disabilities as LEAs implement distance learning strategies.

  • Individualized Instruction in Distance Learning Settings.
    As an LEA considers options for distance learning, the LEA should generally assess the extent to which its students with disabilities will be able to attain educational benefit under each option. Depending on a student’s particular needs and the distance learning options available to the LEA, LEAs may also need to develop plans to provide additional services to some students with disabilities when onsite instruction and regular school operations resume.

  • Related Services.
    To the greatest extent possible, LEAs should continue providing related services consistent with the student’s IEP. This may involve providing services on one or more schoolsite, consistent with social distancing guidelines and accounting for the health needs of students and staff.

  • Assistive Technology.
    LEAs should also be flexible in providing access to school-purchased assistive technology devices when necessary, consistent with law, to ensure children have access to devices they typically use at school.

  • Nonpublic Schools and Agencies (NPS/A).
    Because NPS/A provide critical programs and related services to students with disabilities, CDE encourages continued payment to NPS/As. LEAs should work with NPS/As to take advantage of services that can be offered by NPS/As that elect to continue to provide services during school closures. In addition, LEAs and NPS/As should work collaboratively to ensure continuity of services for students currently served by NPS/As, pursuant to the IEP, including exploring options related to distance learning. In light of continued funding provided to LEAs under Executive Order N-26-20 to offer educational opportunities to all students during school closures, LEAs are encouraged to review master contracts with NPS/As and explore options for payment given the likelihood of student absences and the fiscal impact on NPS/As.

The resource guide offered in Appendix 1 includes links to on-line learning resources and strategies for students with disabilities. The Center on Online Learning and Students with Disabilities External link opens in new window or tab. , from OSEP, provides guidance for parents and teachers, and Common Sense Media’s Best Special Education Apps and Websites External link opens in new window or tab. offers information on an array of tools. The guidance for on-line instruction from Riverside County Office of Education in Appendix 2 also includes suggestions for supporting students with disabilities.

Considerations for English Learners

In considering its distance learning plan, an LEA should also have a plan for providing language development instruction and services for English learners, aligned to the LEA’s language acquisition program. While many English learners may benefit from accessing learning through alternative learning platforms, it is important to consider the unique learning needs and supports that are necessary for language development.

Accordingly, although distance learning may provide a valuable alternative during uncertain times of physical school closures, it is important to evaluate a student’s progress toward language acquisition when the regular school session resumes to determine whether a student may need additional services and supports to account for how the distance learning program may have impacted the student’s progress toward proficiency while onsite instruction was suspended.

Leveraging Transportation Resources to Support Distance Learning

School districts should consider ways to repurpose and redirect resources to support distance learning activities, especially those resources that may not be used to capacity while schools are closed. One example of this is student transportation and transportation staff. Several states and school districts have repurposed the use of buses for the transport of goods, materials and resources.

For example, South Carolina will equip 3,000 school buses with WiFi to serve as hotspots for students who lack internet access. An additional 6,000 school buses will be used to deliver instructional materials.

Student transportation operations – either run in-house by a school district or contracted by the school district – can be redeployed to help with:

  • Distribution of meals to students in most need,
  • Access to wireless equipment to make hot spots available to students unable to access a WiFi connection without leaving their home, and
  • Distribution of instructional packets to students that do not have or are unable to gain access to the internet.

Conclusion

These are uncertain times, and we know that planning is difficult given the constantly evolving situation. An LEA’s distance learning plan will also need to continue to evolve, both in the short-term and long-term, i.e., in the first few weeks when the school site is closed or in the longer term if the closure extends into a longer period. While many students have access to devices and the internet at home, LEAs should consider whether an e-learning or distance learning strategy would be effective and then consider how to provide equitable access to those students without access, ensure equity, and provide for students with disabilities and English learners. The plan will need to be adjusted as local circumstances change, with the focus on ensuring and improving the opportunities provided to students.

Questions:   Curriculum Frameworks and Instructional Resurces Division | DistanceLearning@cde.ca.gov | 916-319-0881
Last Reviewed: Tuesday, May 19, 2020
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